Mentalist Geller / SUN 7-31-2016 / Leaf / It may require a password

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

Relative difficulty: Not very tough

THEME: MAKE "IT" A DOUBLE — each theme entry contains two IT rebus squares

Word of the Day: ENDGAME (115A: Lead-up to mating)

In chess and chess-like games, the endgame (or end game or ending) is the stage of the game when few pieces are left on the board.
The line between middlegame and endgame is often not clear, and may occur gradually or with the quick exchange of a few pairs of pieces. The endgame, however, tends to have different characteristics from the middlegame, and the players have correspondingly different strategic concerns. In particular, pawns become more important as endgames often revolve around attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the eighth rank. The king, which has to be protected in the middlegame owing to the threat of checkmate, becomes a strong piece in the endgame. It can be brought to the center of the board and act as a useful attacking piece. --Wikipedia

We've reached the endgame of my time here this year -- thanks to Rex for giving me the keys for a week, commenters for their perspicacity and civility, and the constructors and NYT team for putting these things out there.  ICYMI, check out my websites here and here

On to the puzzle. Not the most exciting idea: each theme entry contains a pair of (IT) rebus squares, and then the reveal is KEEP (IT) TOGETHER, clued as (Stay cool ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme).  I guess if you've never seen a rebus theme before you'd be impressed, but otherwise the solve gets sloggy quick.

Theme answers:
  • SW(IT)CH POS(IT)IONS (22A: Flip-Flop)
  • CRED(IT) OR DEB(IT) (31A: Question asked at the cash register)
  • IN(IT)IA(TI)ON RITE (59A: Occasion to learn a secret handshake)
  • L(IT)TLE WH(IT)E LIE (80A: Fib)
  • PATERNITY SUIT (107A: Way to get to know a father in law?) 
  • SECUR(IT)Y DEPOS(IT) (16D: Landlord's request)
  • (IT)SY-B(IT)SY SPIDER (58D: Climber in a children's rhyme)  

Very slightly offputting to include a pair of downward theme entries in a rebus like this; messes with the optics a little bit, obscuring that each theme entry has two ITs. I do like the symmetric and amusing crossers F(IT)B(IT)S and N(IT)W(IT)S, each of which crosses two theme entries and required some delicate footwork to include.

Big blot, though, at 82D ("It was you," à la Verdi) for ERI TU. Pretty standard in a theme like this not to have any stray rebus pieces laying about, so the unused (IT) in this entry should certainly have been caught and excised. Might seem harsh but that's about .25 of a letter grade right there.

I remember the fill being pretty good, though during a sloggy solve you're always on the lookout for gimmick squares so it's tougher to appreciate it. But points for ALL CAPS, JOCULAR, MEMO PAD, TV HOSTS, BUST A GUT, both ARSENIC and POISON, LOW TECH, and TOM-TOM. Lots of theme entries so tough to keep it both interesting and clean, but she pulled it off well I think.

Hard to rise above a dull theme on a Sunday. Wavering between C+ and C, but that ERI TU thing removes the +. Letter grade of C.



Before I return you to Rex: be aware that the 9th edition of Lollapuzzoola takes place in Manhattan, NYC, USA on Saturday, August 13th, 10AM-6PM. I've been to this very enjoyable crossword tournament three times in the past and can highly recommend it -- casual, fun, one day only so not a big investment of time, very high quality puzzles. Tournament organizers Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer keep things amusing and make sure everyone has a good time. Sometimes people throw food. Check it out here:

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld until midnight tonight

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ladder's counterpart / SAT 7-30-2016 / Writer Sedaris / Pet name meaning "faithful"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Constructor: Lily Silverstein

Relative difficulty: 11:36, slightly tough for Saturday (not a humblebrag, just telling you my time)


Word of the Day: ALSTON (29A: Charles who created murals for Harlem Hospital and the American Museum of Natural History)
Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907 – April 27, 1977) was an African-American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Alston designed and painted murals at the Harlem Hospital and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. In 1990 Alston's bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. became the first image of an African American displayed at the White House. --                   Wikipedia
• • •
Eerily similar to yesterday's puzzle: competently written, very clean, perfectly pleasant to solve...but lacking much punch, noticeably un-Scrabbly, and highly compartmentalized. The clues were more interesting than yesterday's, though, so this is safely a B instead of on the line between B and B-.

The three showcase answers are fine but not more: CHANCE MEETING (32A: Start of many a romantic comedy), A HUNGER ARTIST (34A: 1922 Kafka short story), and PLATELET COUNT (35A: Hematologist's measure).

That 34-A is a nasty trap; raise your hand if you plunked METAMORPHOSIS down there like I aaaaalmost did until I hesitated since my hazy memory was that that's a novella or novel. I vaguely recalled the right answer, but even at ?HUN?ERARTIST I wasn't sure. THUNDER ARTIST? Finally the A fell into place. But not a story I recall reading and 11 of 13 letters are Scrabble 1-pointers, so kinda meh. 11 for 13 also on PLATELET COUNT.

Once you had the center nailed down it was a matter of knocking out the four peripheral sections one by one. As with yesterday, not good grid flow since it plays like a series of mini-puzzles.  All four are pretty snappy, though, and feature pleasantly wicked cluing, especially the SW corner, where FISTS was (Sparring partners?), AMOEBAS are (Slide presentations?) and BIT PART is (It doesn't have much to say). Nice.

To illustrate the cleanliness of the grid let's apply a five-worst-entries test: ITAL, ENG, ALBA, SIM, ABA. So that's good. Best fill was CHALK UP TO (32D: Attribute as the cause of), amusing TINA FEY (18A: "Mean Girls" screenwriter), AEROSOL CAN, RIGHT ANGLE, and PAPER THIN. Which are all good, but as a best-of list in a themeless, a little underwhelming; none is really a marquee answer.

Letter grade of B

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 1 more day and then Rex is coming back and we're all gonna be in trouble! Let's clean the house really fast and nobody tell him about the lawn parties.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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